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Monday, December 15, 2014

Mapping the Origins Debate, by Gerald Rau

Gerald Rau has written Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Origin of Everything, which is a guide to various views of origins. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2012). One feature of the book is that it does not take sides. Some other commenters have attempted to discover what Rau, himself, believes, but have been unable to, from the book. I didn't, either.

(For reviews of the book, see here, and also here and here (a two-part review).

What Rau attempts, and does well, is to discuss six different models for origins. The six are Naturalistic Evolution, Non-Teleological Evolution, Planned Evolution, Directed Evolution, Old-Earth Creationism, and Young-Earth Creationism. (Abbreviated, NE, NTE, PE, DE, OEC and YEC. The Free Dictionary has this as part of its definition of teleological: "Belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history.") In order, these mean approximately this:
NE: origins took place without any supernatural intervention or previous planning.
NTE: God set the universe into development, with some built-in laws and properties, such as the properties of sub-atomic particles, but did not intervene to direct the results.
PE: God set the universe into development, having planned the built-in laws and properties so that the organisms of today could emerge.
DE: God set the universe into development, and directed things, including natural selection, in an intimate way, so that the organisms of today could emerge.
OEC: God created the earth some billions of years ago, but created various types of organisms in specific creative acts, after which they may have evolved into diverse types.
YEC: God created the earth some thousands of years ago, and created various types of organisms, which have evolved somewhat, perhaps even to the point of speciation, but not much, if any, beyond that, since the creation of the earth.

You may have seen similar categories put forth elsewhere. (Here's an extensive classification, by me.) Rau, however, separates what has often been known as "Theistic Evolution" into three separate categories, NTE, PE and DE. Very few people would call themselves believers in Non-Teleogical Evolution, as opposed to believers in Theistic Evolution, but the introduction of more categories is a good thing. The more specifically a model is described, the better.

Note that Rau, in his title, uses "origins," not "evolution." There is, and has been, an origins debate, and it includes debates on evolution, but, for Rau's subject matter, "origins" is the better term. Evolution has many meanings, and, unfortunately, is usually used without specifying which meaning is understood by the author. Evolution can mean change, as in the various races of humans having evolved from a single population. It can also mean speciation, the origin of new species from pre-existing ones. These two meanings are sometimes called microevolution, as opposed to macroevolution. I have not read a serious thinker on the subject of origins who does not believe that change, such as the development of more than one race from a single population, has occurred. This includes YEC thinkers, who are unanimous in believing that natural selection has and does occur. Not everyone believes in the development of new species since creation, but even some YEC do believe this. What most Christians really mean when they say that they don't believe in evolution is that they are not naturalists -- they don't believe that things came about solely by chance. (They may also mean that they don't believe that humans arose from non-humans by an evolutionary process.)

Some people call the origin of the universe, and the origin of life, aspects of evolution, and may mean one of these when they use the term. However, natural selection, as proposed by Darwin, has nothing to say about the origin of the universe. Natural selection explains the origin of new types of living things by requiring the ability to reproduce, in some original type, variation among the offspring of that type, and competition between the resulting variants. The origin of life, by definition, is about some entity which is not alive, or which is supernatural, but brings about life. Therefore, models of the origin of life can't involve natural selection until the living organisms arose, however they arose.

Rau does not include Intelligent Design in his list of models. That is because the Intelligent Design movement claims to be a big tent, including all of the models except NE. There are important figures in the movement who are on record as believing that the earth is very old, as well as some who do not. All of the models except NE include some planning, and perhaps direct intervention, by an intelligent creator, so, in that more broad sense, they include intelligent design.

Thanks for reading.

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